Cupcakes by Liz

(Update 10/30/17: Liz has retired, and Cupcakes by Liz is now closed.)

 

Cupcakes by Liz reminds me of Candy Land.

 

Whenever I’m there, walking past the tiered displays and dessert cases filled with larger-than-life confectionery creations, I feel like I’m a gingerbread girl game piece meandering my way past the Peanut Brittle House, through the Gumdrop Mountains, and to the Candy Castle.

 

With its cupcakes, cookies, and cakes, this dessert boutique is more like Cupcake Land than Candy Land, but the whimsical and indulgent feeling is still the same. Plus, Cupcake Land’s owner and master baker, Liz Easton, is strikingly similar to Candy Land’s Queen Frostine; wherever Queen Frostine goes, her snowflake scepter spins a trail of sparkling sugar snowflakes.

 

cupcakes by liz queens choice

Queen Frostine’s sugary creations

 

I’ve had the pleasure of watching Cupcakes by Liz expand over the years; it used to be a weekends-only shop that served gourmet cupcakes, and now it’s open every day except Sunday and its menu has expanded to include other desserts, like Great Gran’s Bread Pudding, cookies, and a variety of sundaes.

 

cupcakes by liz cookies

 

Savory breakfast items are now also offered, such as quiche made with bacon, asparagus, and prosciutto, and Twisted Oinkers (bacon wrapped in puff pastry).

 

If you’ve already written off this place because you avoid gluten, don’t. Cupcakes by Liz offers some gluten-free cupcake flavors so you can indulge along with the rest of us.

 

Come, join us.

 

The unique and fanciful nature of this dessert boutique makes it a fun place to socialize and catch up with friends, which is something I did recently.

 

After exchanging hellos, we took our places in front of the counter in respectful silence as we searched for the perfect treat.
cupcakes by liz strawberry

Tip: Always allow at least ten minutes to let yourself decide what you want. I’m not exaggerating. It’s customary for people to stand in front of the display case, brows furrowed, lost in thought. This is a major decision.

 

Will it be the Banoffi, a moist banana cupcake filled with caramel and toffee, then topped with cream cheese frosting and toasted walnuts? How about the The Dirt Bomb, a chocolate cupcake topped with chocolate buttercream frosting, then rolled in dark chocolate cookie crumbs, and then topped with a chocolate candy rock?

 

The cupcake flavors rotate each week, which keeps the options fresh and new. Even so, I found that I had already tried most of the flavors that were in the case that day.

 

Don’t judge.

 

After all, I do have several kids and a husband so that means multiple cupcakes per visit, and if you do the math, it really doesn’t take too many visits with my crew to go through most of the flavors, even if they do rotate.

 

How’s that for rationalizing a sugar addiction?
So being a Cupcake’s by Liz expert already, I decided to taste something new. I tried the individual key lime pie, which was filled with a thick and tangy lime curd (I love me some curd) and topped with fluffy whipped cream.

 

 

cupcakes by liz trioKey Lime Pie, Pink Lady, and Butter Bomb

 

My friends chose a Pink Lady, a strawberry cupcake topped with pink raspberry buttercream frosting, and a Butter Bomb, which is a cupcake that tastes like a snickerdoodle but, instead of being frosted, is bathed in butter. It’s incredible.

 

What saved me from falling into an immediate sugar coma was my Cafe Breve, an espresso topped with steamed half-and-half (which tasted so creamy, I asked if the barista had used heavy whipping cream by accident, but was told that the process makes the half-and-half tastes as rich as cream).

 

cupcakes by liz coffee pour

 

I especially enjoyed the artwork on my drink. Even the drinks are masterpieces here.

 

cupcakes by liz coffee

 

The espresso bar serves coffee supplied by Onyx Coffee Lab. People from Joplin used to have to drive to northwest Arkansas to enjoy the coffee from this small batch roaster, but now we have it right here.

 

Great. Like I need another reason to come to Cupcakes by Liz.

 

Oh, Queen Frostine, you are very cunning.

 

Cupcakes by Liz is located at 2310 South Main Street.

 

 

To read more about my adventures in the area, visit JoplinMOLife.com.

 

Route 66

Thousands of tourists travel historic Route 66 through Joplin each year.

 

Are you one of them?

 

I wasn’t.

 

Sure, over the years I’d utilized Route 66 at some point nearly every single day as I’d take my kids to activities and run errands, occasionally noticing the historic road’s signage when stopped at a red light (which, by the way, seemed to be posted on multiple roads and therefore perplexed me – more about that in a minute).

 

But I’d never really explored Joplin’s portion of the Mother Road through the unadulterated eyes of a tourist, who travels the highway in order to experience an important part of America’s history.

 

Me? I’d been using Route 66 as an efficient way to get across town to Target. I finally realized that it was time to rectify that, so I decided to travel Route 66 through Joplin like a tourist.

 

route-66-general-sign

Three Alignments

 

Remember how I mentioned that I saw Route 66 signage on multiple streets and how that confused me? I did some research and learned that Route 66 was realigned twice after the original construction of the road (click here for more about the history of Route 66 in Joplin).

 

Here’s a brief summary of the three alignments, coming from Webb City’s Broadway Street and heading west toward Joplin (you can see a map of this by clicking here):

 

1926: Broadway (Webb City) to Madison/North Range Line to Zora to Florida to Utica to Euclid to St. Louis to Broadway (Joplin) to Main to 7th. This is the portion of the Route that I only recently discovered, and it winds through the Royal Heights neighborhood to Broadway Street (which used to be Main Street when Joplin was known as Joplin City a loooooong time ago).

 

1937: Broadway (Webb City) to 171 to North Main Street to 7th.

 

1958: Broadway (Webb City) to Madison/North Range Line to 7th.

 

Attractions Along – and Slightly Off – the Route

 

There are some attractions located a block or two off the Route that I think are important to point out.

 

Joe Becker Stadium (1301 East 3rd Street)

Built in 1913, Joe Becker Stadium is two blocks south of Broadway (Route 66), and was once home to baseball great Mickey Mantle when he played for the Joplin Miners in 1950.

 

George A. Spiva Center for the Arts (222 W. Third Street)

With national and regional exhibits, art classes and workshops, and a gift shop with one-of-a-kind items, this center is abuzz with creativity and talent.

 Spiva-princess

And there’s a bonus: admission is free! Go see for yourself why Spiva Center for the Arts is the visual arts hub of the Four States.

 

Joplin City Hall (Newman Building, 602 South Main Street)

I think this is one of the prettiest buildings in Joplin, and I wonder what it must have been like to shop here over a century ago when it was a high-rise department store. Today, the building houses Joplin’s municipal offices, as well as its Convention and Visitors Bureau, which serves as a great resource for tourists (and residents) who are looking for things to do in the city and surrounding area.

 murals-gude

As a Mother Road traveler, be sure to stop in the lobby of the Newman Building to look at the incredible painting “Route 66, Joplin, Missouri” by world-renowned artist Thomas Hart Benton, which offers a snapshot of life in Joplin during the height of the Mother Road era.

 

Route 66 Mural Park (619 South Main Street)

Located across the street from City Hall, this park pays tribute to Joplin’s contribution to the Route 66 culture. With two murals plus an oversized 45 record imprint of “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66,” this park provides an ideal backdrop for photos of Route 66 sojourners.

 

route-66-joplin-mural-park

Other murals painted on buildings downtown capture bits and pieces of the history and character of our city. If you’re up for it, take a walking tour to get to know Joplin through its public art.

 

 

Restaurants on the Route

 

Soul food, gyros, pasta, veggie dogs, and doughnut burgers – did you know that you can try all of these on the Route in downtown Joplin?

 

You can! Maybe not all of them on one day, though…

 

If you have a hankering for some made-from-scratch food that comforts your soul, visit MEs Place (1203 Broadway), owned by former Joplin Mayor Melodee Kean.

 

MEs-sides

If you’re craving Greek food, stop at M & M Bistro (407 South Main Street), which serves fresh, flavorful Mediterranean delights, like gyros and hummus.

 

For some great local pizza (the Buffalo Chicken is my favorite), try JBs Downtown. (112 South Main Street).

 

If wings are your thing, definitely try some of Missouri’s best at Hackett Hot Wings (520 South Main Street), where you can choose from 13 signature flavors.

 

karma-donut

Both vegetarians and carnivores alike achieve sweet bliss after eating at Instant Karma (527 South Main). Here, you can order inventive dishes like the Bio Diesel (a veggie dog served with homemade bleu cheese coleslaw) or the Heavenly Donut (a hamburger served with a glazed doughnut as the bun). Round out your meal with one of the many craft beers on the menu.

 

Need some something sweet after your meal? Try a scoop of Bear Claw or Red Velvet Cake ice cream from Sweet Caroline’s(1027 South Main). Located three blocks off the Route in the historic Gryphon Building, this old-fashioned ice cream shop is worth the slight detour.

 

 

Last Stop Before Kansas!

Schifferdecker Park (7th and Schifferdecker)

Named after Joplin businessman and philanthropist Charles Schifferdecker, this park is the last stop on historic Route 66 before the Kansas state line. In addition to being a wonderful place to have a picnic or to let the kids run around on the playground, there are several other activities that you can do here that you just might not know about.

 

Schiff-golf-water

For instance, you can float on a lazy river at the Joplin Aquatic Center, play 18 holes of golf at Schifferdecker Golf Course, catch a performance at Joplin Little Theatre (the longest continuously running community theatre west of the Mississippi), and see a necklace found in Bonnie and Clyde’s Joplin hideout at the Joplin Museum Complex (where you’ll also learn that Schifferdecker Park was once called Electric Park and had a huge roller coaster in it!).

 JLT-interior

So, my Joplin friends, how many of these places have you been to? If you’ve visited them all, then I applaud you.

 

If not, here’s your challenge: For one day, be a tourist.

 

Start at North Range Line Road and trace historic Route 66 solely for the purpose of pleasure and discovery, rather than as a means of getting from point A to point B.

 

You might even play “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66” to get you in an adventurous mood.

 

If you ever plan to motor west,

Travel my way, take the highway that is best.

Get your kicks on Route 66.

 

To read more about my adventures in the area, visit JoplinMOLife.com.

Lazer Force

Today I was a hunter. My mission was to track down and eliminate my enemies while working my way through a labyrinth cloaked in shadows.

 

I did succeed in taking down my targets, and my mission would have been a complete success had it not been for my adversary Starburst – he beat me by 1100 points.

 

No, this wasn’t the Hunger Games (if it were, I wouldn’t be here to write about it). Today, my mission as Kit Kat was carried out during a session of laser tag in a two-story arena right here in Joplin at Lazer Force.

 

Lazer logo

Laser tag?

 

But isn’t that for kids?

 

Sure, laser tag is a fun activity for kids, but it’s also a blast for adults. Being able to release frustration in a safe and playful setting is a great stress reliever. When you’re in the arena, you don’t have the chance think about the worries in your everyday life because all of your attention is focused on sneaking up on your opponents while simultaneously trying to avoid becoming a target yourself.

 

Basically, laser tag is a glorified game of hide-and-seek.  Each player wears an electronic vest and carries a laser gun. Your mission is to shoot your enemies and avoid being shot at yourself.

 

Lazer vest back

To tag people, you aim at your enemies’ vests and pull the trigger of your laser gun. If the laser beam hits a vest, that person’s vest will darken for 5 seconds before reactivating. During that time, the downed person is unable to shoot at anyone else.

 

You accumulate points by successfully hitting your human targets, plus finding and shooting the bonus beacons that are stationed on the first floor of the arena.

 

Lazer hunt flash

With the black lights and pumping music, each 13-minute tag session is an adrenaline rush. And each session is unpredictable. Sometimes you will snake your way through the zig-zagging walls on your own, and sometimes you will find yourself forming alliances so that you have a better chance of taking down the biggest threat. The dynamics of the game make laser tag a great choice for developing team-building skills in the workplace.

 

Lazer team

In the 6,000-square-foot maze of the arena, I felt like I was in an entirely different world, assuming a completely different persona. I’d back up against a wall with my laser gun drawn, peer out to make sure everything was clear, then dart to the next wall for cover. I felt as deft and light-footed as Katniss Everdeen.

 

Lazer labyrinth

But my fantasy was short-lived. There were times when I’d get tagged, turn a corner, then immediately get tagged again. During those times, I started to reevaluate my survival skills in general.

 

My clunky shoes didn’t help me, either, because you can’t sneak up on your enemy if you sound like a herd of elephants. Be sure to wear sneakers when you go.

 

When the session is finished, you can instantly see your score on a monitor outside.

 

Lazer tv

You are identified by the name that is located on your electronic vest. I didn’t come in first during my latest round, but I did beat Mountain Dew (my husband), and that was enough of a victory for me. 

 

If you don’t want to leave after one round, you can purchase multiple games. You can play arcade games in between tag sessions, or reserve a party room. You can event rent the entire facility.

Lazer arcade

Lazer Force offers something fun for adults as well as kids. So, instead of meeting your friends or coworkers at a bar, meet them at the arena.

 

And may the odds be ever in your favor.

 

Lazer Force is located at 408 S. Northpark Lane. Click here to visit its website.

 

To read more about my adventures in the area, visit JoplinMOLife.com.

Club 609

Regardless of whatever music is playing on the speakers, whenever I walk through the doors of Club 609, this is what I hear playing in my head:

 

Sometimes you want to go

Where everybody knows your name

And they’re always glad you came

 

If you were around in the ‘80s, then you’re probably singing the theme song to Cheers right along with me now, and if you’ve been to Club 609, then you’ve probably seen the similarities between this Joplin institution and the fictional Boston watering hole on TV.

 

Perched at the bar is Joplin’s equivalent of Norm, who greets old friends and new faces with a twinkle in his eyes and a smile in his voice.

 

If you are a first-time visitor, you’ll be welcomed here with a mix of curiosity and familiarity, kind of like the girlfriend that your brother brings home for Christmas after a semester away at college.

 

When you’re here, you’re family – whether or not you’re a local.

 

609 outside

 

The welcoming atmosphere here has made this my go-to place for celebrations, and since Club 609 opened in 1990, there have been many, many celebrations: birthdays, weddings, friendships. With a daily happy hour, great food, and playful decor, I always know that I’ll have a good time.

 

I recently met my friend Carrie here for dinner on a Friday evening. While we waited to order, I did some people-watching (this is a prime place for doing so). The bar stools were already packed with professionals unwinding from the work day (yes, Norm was there), and the tables were filling with families, couples, and groups of friends out for dinner.

 

I ordered a Key Lime Martini, which another friend had introduced me to years ago. Made with vanilla vodka, pineapple juice, and lime juice, it tastes like a tropical vacation.

 

609 martini

 

Make that two tropical vacations, thanks to happy hour.

 

While Carrie and I sipped our cocktails, a friend of hers from high school stopped by our table. While they chatted about old times, I checked out the art display on the walls; a new local artist is regularly featured here at Club 609, and it’s always blows my mind to see the high caliber of talent that lives here in southwest Missouri.

 

Then it was time to decide what to order, which is always challenging here because there are so many delicious items on the menu: appetizers, sandwiches, salads, pasta dishes, seafood entrees, beef entrees, and chicken entrees (like Chicken Bijan, which consists of roulades of chicken breast wrapped with bacon and stuffed with feta and basil, then finished with a balsamic glaze – it’s one of my favorite dishes here).

 

I chose to order another one of my favorite dishes, the Chicken Cordon Bleu sandwich. It’s made with a juicy grilled chicken breast, a slice of ham, and a six-cheese blend, all layered inside a piece of soft flatbread, then served with creamy Bechamel sauce for dipping (which I could bathe in because it’s that good).

 

club 609 cordon bleu

 

Sandwiches here come with a side of fries or homemade chips, but I chose to substitute a house salad instead because I was craving some greens.

 

club 609 house salad

 

And also because I wanted the tangy, crispy fried parmesan cheese that comes with the salads here.

 

Carrie ordered the Chargrilled Vegetable Salad, which was an ideal vegan option for her. Her salad base was a bed of tender baby spinach which was then piled high with grilled broccoli, carrots, portobello mushrooms, red onions, and toasted almonds.

 

club 609 chargrilled salad

 

The food here has been consistently good over the decades, and it’s nice to be able to enjoy it in Club 609’s smoke-free atmosphere.

 

While Carrie and I didn’t close down the place that Friday night (although I’ve done my share of doing so over the years), we left Club 609 relaxed and happy. It was a perfect choice for escaping from our everyday routines and enjoying a friendly atmosphere.

 

Wouldn’t you like to get away?

Sometimes you want to go…

 

Club 609 is located at 609 S. Main St.

 

To read more about my adventures in the area, visit JoplinMOLife.com.

 

Downtown Joplin Mural Tour

When people make a plan to view art in a city, they usually seek out places like galleries and museums. But that means that they’re missing out on seeing artwork that’s readily accessible and free to view.

 

I’m talking about public murals.

 

Public murals not only mirror the character of the people and places where they are displayed, they are a physical part of them, transforming plain brick facades into chapters of a city’s cultural history.

 

This art form is currently thriving in Joplin, and more and more chapters of our community’s story continue to be written with each stroke of a paintbrush.

 

Just in downtown Joplin alone, there are 10 locations where people can view public murals. I recently spent an afternoon strolling through the heart of the city to see these murals, and because I’m obsessive about organization, I’ve put together a walking tour based on what I saw for people who want to learn more about Joplin’s public art but don’t know where to start.

 

Well, I’ll tell you how to start.

 

Start by checking out this a map of the different downtown murals:

 

Downtown-Mural-Tour-Map 2

 

Then follow along below as I offer more details about each one.

 

And the best part?

 

It won’t cost you a dime.

 

THE TOUR

 

With the exception of mural #11, the tour makes a loop, beginning and ending close to Memorial Hall (212 W. 8th St.), where there’s ample space to park your car. You can then hop in your car and drive to mural #11. Or don’t park your car at all and just follow the tour entirely behind the wheel, if that suits you.

 

The choice is yours to make; the art is yours to view.

 

 

  1. Celebrating the Performing Arts in Joplin (2014), Main and 8th Streets

When I first saw this work, painted by contemporary realist and New York native Garin Baker, I thought it represented the world-renowned performing arts community in Baker’s home town. After all, I didn’t recognize the buildings in the mural.

 

downtown mural tour performing wide

 

When I looked closer, I was surprised to see these buildings did exist in Joplin, and they served as the foundation of a thriving performing arts community right here in southwest Missouri.

 

Divided into three sections, this mural depicts the past, present, and future of the performing arts in Joplin. The left section shows the energy of the street in front of the Club Theater on a weekend evening in the early 1900s, when people came into the city to see live theater shows.

 

 

downtown mural tour performing left

 

The center part of the mural shows the Fox Theater, which was built in the 1930s. It was at this theater where Joplinites were introduced to talking picture shows.

downtown mural performing center

 

 

The right panel shows contemporary performers (who are actual dancers from Karen’s Dance Studio in Joplin). They represent the success of Joplin’s performing arts today, and the hope for its future.

 

downtown mural tour performing right

 

 

  1. Geometric Mural #3 (2015)7th Street and Wall Avenue

 

This simple mural adds a bit of freshness to the side of this old brick building. It is one of several murals created by TANK, a collaborative public arts group that supports, promotes, and creates public art in Joplin.

 

downtown mural tour geometric 3

 

 

  1. Graffiti, in the alley between 6th and 5th Streets, and Joplin and Wall Avenues

 

Before you dismiss graffiti as senseless vandalism, take a walk through this downtown alley. Seeing the talent of these Joplin artists reinforces the idea that graffiti is being recognized as a legitimate form of art these days.

 

downtown mural tour graffiti far

 

I love how the mural below jumps off the building and continues into the asphalt.

 

downtown mural tour graffiti close

 

  1. Paper and Pencils (2014)5th Street and Wall Avenue

 

Initially, seeing this mural reminded me that I needed to write down my grocery list, but I was pretty confident that artist Taylor Kubicek had something else in mind when he painted these airborne pencils. After researching Kubicek’s intent, I learned that this mural is a metaphor for life’s ideas which rise from the ground, then transform into winged things that take full flight towards their destination. Not all ideas continue to fly; some are criticized and shot down back to earth.

 

downtown mural tour pencils

 

 

  1. Geometric Mural #1 (2013)3rd Street and Wall Avenue

 

Art is featured both outside and inside of this building, which is the home of Spiva Center for the Arts. Inside is an art gallery with free admission (which is open on Sundays!), and outside is another mural by the public arts group TANK, called Geometric Mural #1.

 

downtown mural tour geometric 1

 

It’s always a challenge trying to get a photo of this mural without a car parked in front of it (thanks to the many patrons visiting Spiva), but you can still see most of the mural here.

 

 

  1. Drawn to the Power of Words (2015)2nd Street and Wall Avenue


Yet another TANK project, this two-part mural’s theme is the power of the written word.

 

downtown mural tour power corner

 

Admittedly, I did not grasp the meaning behind this piece until I did some research; the symbolism is always much deeper than my linear mind can process at first.

 

The mural on the left represents the inner workings of the printing press (go, Gutenberg!); the black and red wires represent the positive and negative poles of power, which parallel the positive and negative reactions of the very words they produce.

 

downtown mural tour power printing press

 

On the right side of the mural, those same wires twist and converge, ending at a light bulb. A moth is drawn to the light bulb, as we all are drawn towards the light that is created by language.

 

downtown mural tour power moth

 

Whoa. That’s some heavy stuff.

 

 

 

  1. Downtown Gateway Mural (2014)Main and A Streets

 

The theme of these two murals seems much more straightforward to me.

 

downtown mural tour gateway wide

 

The mural on the left welcomes visitors who are entering downtown Joplin from the north.

 

downtown mural tour jomo

 

 

The mural on the right highlights prominent attractions and people of our city, including George Spiva, a prominent businessman, philanthropist, and supporter of the arts.

 

downtown mural tour gateway spiva

 

 

This crowd-sourced project was organized by Burt Bucher, a professor at MSSU, who assembled a team of students and volunteers to create this massive pair of murals.

 

 

  1. I Am Joplin Mural (2013)Main and 6th Streets

 

I love optical illusions, and this mural offers an quite an illusionary experience. Standing across the street from it, I see the vibrant red words “I Am Joplin” featured in the center of a comparatively bland black-and-white background.

 

downtown mural tour i am far

 

But while standing directly in front of the mural, I see that those black-and-white forms are anything but bland. They are photos of over 300 unique Joplinites.

 

downtown mural tour i am close

 

Designed by the organization Art Feeds as a “love letter to Joplin,” this project recruited Joplin residents to complete the sentence “I Am…” in relation to their role in the community. Kevin Deems Photography snapped the photos of people holding up signs with their completed sentences and the photos were compiled in the mural.

 

 

  1. Murals at City Hall602 South Main Street

 

Okay, so these murals are inside of a building but they are still free for the public to view. They are housed in Joplin City Hall, which is open Monday through Friday, so if you take this tour during those days, then you can peek at the following murals:

 

Joplin at the Turn of the Century (1973): This mural was painted by Regionalist Thomas Hart Benton, who was born in nearby Neosho, Missouri. It was his final signed mural.

 

downtown mural tour city hall hart benton

 

Here, Benton captures the dynamic energy of Joplin during its booming mining days, using images to represent the positive side of prosperity (like the hope-filled faces of the family in the covered wagon arriving in Joplin to pursue their dream), and the negative side of success (the rampant gambling at Joplin’s House of Lords saloon).

 

If you’ve ever wondered how a project like this comes together, you can walk up to the mezzanine level of City Hall to see the exhibit “Evolution of a Mural.”

 

Route 66 – Joplin, Missouri (2010): No, this isn’t another work of Benton’s, but you’re close. Benton’s grandson, Anthony Benton Gude, painted this mural which depicts Joplin in the mid-1900s, during the height of the Route 66 culture.

 

murals gude

 

Heartstrings of America (2011): This piece is a powerful representation of the strength and compassion of the human spirit. After the 2011 tornado devastated Joplin, “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” came to the city with its project “7 Homes in 7 Days,” which rebuilt some of the leveled homes within just a week’s time.

 

downtown mural tour city hall heart

 

Part of this project also included having volunteers hammer nails into their hometowns on this wooden map of America, and then using colored string to connect their nails to the one centered in Joplin.

 

 

  1. Route 66 Mural Park (2013)619 South Main Street

 

The final stop on the downtown mural tour pays homage to the Mother Road culture – and offers a great photo op.

 

downtown mural tour 66 wide

 

Route 66 Mural Park features two nostalgic murals and an oversized 45-record imprint of Get Your Kicks on Route 66.

 

The upper mural is called Cruisin’ into Joplin, and it shows a vintage car arriving in Joplin on Route 66 from the west.

 

downtown mural tour 66 cruisin

 

The lower mural is called The American Ribbon, and it traces the route of the Mother Road from start to finish. Jutting out from the mural is a bifurcated 1964 red Corvette, which makes a fun backdrop for photos.

 

downtown mural tour 66 car

 

Both murals were created with ceramic tiles from Joplin’s own Images in Tile.

 

11. Belonging to All the Hands Who Build (2016): Northwest corner of Broadway and Mineral Streets

 

You’ll have to backtrack a bit to see this 60-foot mural in Joplin’s East Town section, but it will be worth it. If you’re following the tour in numerical order, you’ll head east on Broadway (old Route 66), and you’ll need to turn left on Mineral in order to see the mural because it is painted on the east side of the historic Earl Smith grocery store building.

 

murals belonging full mural

East Town is the only historical African American neighborhood in Joplin, and its residents came together to create this mural which tells their own stories, as well as those of important African American figures in Joplin’s history.

 

murals belonging hummingbird

The first time I saw it, I was awed by its simple beauty. Pink magnolia blossoms and graceful hummingbirds share the space with prominent figures in East Town history.

 

murals belonging key

 

On the lower right side of the mural, there is a key to the people depicted in the mural:

 

1. Betty Smith: Current East Town resident who is passionate about preserving this neighborhood’s history.

 

2. Melissa Cuther: Schoolteacher who helped the Duke Ellington Orchestra find housing when they came to Joplin because no area hotels would allow them to stay because of the color of their skin.

 

3. Duke Ellington Orchestra

 

4. Marion Dial: Principal of Lincoln High School, which provided education for African Americans before desegregation.

 

5. Clovis Steele/Buddie Mitchell: Clovis wrote a book about growing up in East Town. Buddie is his nephew and current neighborhood resident.

 

6. Marvin McMillan and Nellie: Marvin is a Lincoln High alumnus and Nellie is his dog.

 

Whew! You made it.

 

Are you tired?

 

I bet.

 

You’ve just experienced a crash course in Joplin culture.

 

 

To read more about my adventures in the area, visit JoplinMOLife.com.

 

The Hip Handmade Market

I’m a pinner.

 

I love scrolling through Pinterest, my eyes feasting on the buffet of mindblowingly creative ideas for practically every area of my life.

 

I pin inspirational ideas onto my boards hoping that someday I’ll handcraft my daughter’s birthday party invitations, I’ll make that beaded necklace, and I’ll refinish that wooden dresser that was damaged in the tornado.

 

But I never do.

 

At this point in my life, I lack the time, patience, and skills for these super hip DIY projects

 

Alas, I never move beyond pinning.

 

Except for the dresser – I did do that project and, by golly, it actually turned out well.

 

Yet I yearn to surround myself with one-of-a-kind, handmade items; I want a DIY lifestyle without doing it myself.

 

A bit problematic, right?

 

Luckily, there’s an event in Joplin that provides a solution to my Pinterest conundrum: the Hip Handmade Market (or HHM, as the chic people say).

 

hhm info

With booth after booth filled with contemporary arts and crafts, walking through the HHM is like seeing Pinterest boards come to life.

 

Therefore, in my mind, when I buy something unique from one of the craftspeople at the HHM, it’s like I’ve virtually completed a project on Pinterest.

 

I know, I know – I’m stretching it. But the HHM really is the next best thing to “doing it yourself.”

 What is the HHM?

The HHM is the brainchild of Emma Ball. A few years ago, this creative and vivacious ball of energy (pun intended) wanted to introduce a new kind of arts and crafts show to Joplin.

 

And we are ever so grateful that she did.

 

hhm e and cThe amazing Miss Emma 

 

Held twice each year, the HHM’s popularity has skyrocketed since it debuted in spring 2014. But a successful market doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a huge number of vendors. Emma’s goal is to provide an ample number of vendors without compromising the quality of the products, so competition to participate in the HHM is pretty fierce.

 

Vendor applications are carefully reviewed by a selection committee. While some vendors travel from other states, the committee’s goal is to choose as many local artisans as possible.

 

Thanks for supporting our local talent, Emma!

 

At the spring 2015 HHM, there were 52 booths (including one that I’ve been obsessed with since the first HHM: Kristin’s Laboratory).

 

Here’s a glimpse of some of the items I saw (including vendor names and where they’re from).

 

hhm charlie 7 bagsFun fabric handbags (Charlie 7 – Joplin)

 

hhm old books lightLanterns made from recycled book pages (Old Books, New Stories – Joplin)

 

hhm sweet peaArtwork made from dried flowers (Sweet Pea Paintings – Joplin)

 

hhm hookedNail and string art (Hooked – Webb City)

 

hhm little landscapesNaturescapes (Little Landscapes – Carthage/Webb City)

 

hhm odd duckYummy toast? Nope! Handmade soap (Odd Duck Soaps – Webb City)

 

hhm lady threadShark pillow (The Lady in Thread – Ozark, MO)

 

hhm needle feltAdorable felt collectibles (Needle & Felt – Kasson, MN, formerly of Joplin)

It was difficult trying to limit my shopping at the HHM because I wanted to buy most everything. Here are some goodies that did make it home with me:

 

hhm joy elizabethLooks like a wooden spoon, but it’s actually ceramic. (Joy Elizabeth Ceramics – Rogers, AR)

 

hhm elegant ammoRepurposed ammunition is the centerpiece of this bracelet (Elegant Ammo – Carthage)

These are just a few of the uncommon finds at the HHM. Browse the complete list of super hip vendors right here.

 

So how did Emma manage to attract so much talent to Joplin? Because she’s a natural magnet for creativity. Check out these decorations that she made for the HHM – by hand, I might add.

 

hhm cascadeEmma’s color cascade

 

hhm backdropMy daughter hams it up in front of Emma’s whimsical backdrop.

Art Feeds Joplin, the HHM’s partner, highlighted Emma’s good-naturedness with a playful craft at the HHM: the Flat Emma. Kids of all ages were invited to decorate a likeness of the lady in charge.

 

hhm flat emma

 

hhm flat emma doneHere’s a decorated Flat Emma.

Are you itching to shop at the HHM? Then click on this link to get info on upcoming markets.

 

 To read more about my adventures in the area, visit JoplinMOLife.com.

Nature & History

Doctor Mom Knows Best: 

A mother’s prescription for restless kids involves Joplin’s beautiful parks

by Christine Smith

 

When cabin fever runs rampant in my house here in Joplin, I become Doctor Mom and order one of the following prescriptions for my three restless daughters, who range in age from 5 to 13: 

 

Comb through exposed rocks from the creek bottom and find a treasured fossil or arrowhead.


comb through
Wind your way up Bluff Trail and enjoy and a bird’s-eye view of sparkling Shoal Creek below.

 

wind your
Count the number of turtles you see sunbathing on tree limbs that have fallen into Williams Pond.

 

count the

 

The first two prescriptions can be filled at Wildcat Glades Conservation and Audubon Center, and the final one at George Washington Carver National Monument. As Doctor Mom, I’ve chosen these two centers for restlessness rehab because they are close to home, they offer a variety of remedies for my not-so-patient patients, and they are stunningly beautiful.

 

Thanks to these resources, I’m proud to say Doctor Mom’s cure rate is 100%. What’s even more exciting is that it works on anyone, even people just visiting Joplin. In fact, visitors may enjoy their dose of nature therapy so much that they’ll feel compelled to return multiple times for follow-up appointments.

 


wildcate glades

 

Wildcat Glades Conservation and Audubon Center

 

When the kids need to step away from the television and get some fresh air, I turn off the TV and say, “Let’s go pet Trevor!” They jump from the couch with excitement, ready to pay a visit to the gigantic fluffy bunny that lives at Wildcat Glades.

 


when the kids

The girls cheerfully chat during the car ride over to Wildcat Glades Conservation and Audubon Center, located just south of Joplin. The center, which utilizes green technology, offers environmental education classes, children’s nature programming, and a discovery center.

 


the girls cheerfully
Once inside, each girl becomes engrossed in her own thing: one follows the fluid movements of the native turtles and fish inside the impressive 1,300-gallon tank; another watches in fascination as a native rat snake uncoils its shiny body and begins exploring the perimeter of its terrarium; and the youngest stands in front of the bird exhibit, gleefully pressing buttons to hear various bird calls.

 


once inside each girl
We regroup and take a moment to pet Trevor before we hit the outdoor trails; there are seven to choose from, and they cover more than three miles of diverse landscape—some of it rather unusual.

 

We exit the rear doors of the center, and immediately feel like we’ve been transported to Arizona. We see cacti growing along the trail and lizards scurrying across the arid ground. This desert-like ecosystem, filled with an unusual combination of plants and animals, is the last remaining exposed chert glades—in the world. Wildcat Glades also has the only chert cliffs in the world.

 


we exit

 As we continue along the path, the scenery changes from the dry, sunny glades to the cool, wooded forest by Shoal Creek. My husband and I often hike the mile-long Bluff Trail, which offers stunning views of the creek, but today my daughters unanimously vote for taking St. John’s Creek Trail. Why? Because this half-mile path goes past a cave, and for three young girls, looking in to a cave is practically magical. Though the cave entrance is closed to the public, I still love watching their imaginations run wild together.

 


as we continue
Imaginations have been sparked among my patients. Doctor Mom smiles, satisfied that the treatment plan is working.

 

 

George Washington Carver National Monument

For Doctor Mom, visiting the birthplace of the “Plant Doctor,” is like a pilgrimage; in addition to superior nature therapy, it offers rich historical, educational, and spiritual lessons, as well.

 

During the short drive south of Joplin to Diamond, my girls ask me questions like, “Who was George Washington Carver?” and, “How come he has a park named after him?”

 

George Washington Carver was born into slavery toward the end of the Civil War, most likely in 1864, one of many siblings. Soon after his birth, he, one of his sisters and his mother were kidnapped, and Moses Carver, who owned George and his mother, paid an agent to track them down. Of the three only the infant George was located and returned. Moses and Susan Carver then raised George and his brother, James, as their own. Being a sickly boy, he was excused from chores and allowed to wander the woods and prairie instead, during which time he learned about native plants and developed a talent for taking care of them, earning the name of the “Plant Doctor.”

 

Carver’s thirst for knowledge was unquenchable, and he spent his life exploring and educating, blazing the trail for other African Americans to follow.

 

To honor the important agricultural and educational contributions that Carver made to this country, the George Washington Carver National Monument was established in 1943. This 240-acre park is part of the National Park Service, which celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2016. It’s also the first national park to be named after a non-president, as well as the first one to be dedicated to an African American.

 

When we arrive at the park’s visitors center, my husband and I enjoy reading about Carver’s life in the museum exhibit, the kids look at slides of native plant and insect specimens under microscopes in the discovery area, and play teacher in the old-fashioned school room, instructing their students to write their names on the individual slate boards at their desks.

 

 when we arrive at the park 1          

 when we arrive at the park 2

      

when we arrive at the park 3
Then we go outside to walk the 3/4-mile nature trail. Near the beginning, we see a replica of the base of the 12′ x 12′ cabin where Carver was born. Doctor Mom gathers her patients inside of it and asks, “Can you imagine if we all lived together in such a small space? Talk about cabin fever!” Their eyes grow wide, and in them I see a new appreciation for their individual bedrooms in our modern house.

 

The trail, which is nicely paved, leads into the thick woods. As we pause to look at a bronze statue of Carver as a boy, a blue butterfly lands on it. Even the likeness of Carver seems to commune with nature.

the trail which is

 

We cross the pristine Carver Spring, then loop around Williams Pond, our voices startling turtles on the banks, causing them to dive in the water with loud plunks.

we cross the pristine
After walking through the 1881 Carver homestead, we finally emerge in the prairie restoration area.

 

I slow my pace, allowing my family to move ahead of me on the path. I watch as butterflies dance around their contented faces. I understand why Carver saw divine goodness in the natural world around him, rising early each day to take a devotional walk in the woods in order to talk “with God.”

i slow my pace

 

The natural beauty of this area possesses great power; it can raise doleful spirits, entertain the minds of children, and bring smiles to faces.

 

Just like what Doctor Mom ordered.

 

Explore the outdoors in Joplin on some of the best trails.

To read more about my adventures in the area, visit JoplinMOLife.com.

Red Onion Cafe

When a restaurant has been in operation for longer than the length of time that I’ve lived in Joplin (which is now almost two decades), that says something.

 

In such a fickle industry, owning a successful restaurant since 1995 says, “We’ve figured out the magic formula! We’ve listened to you, our people, and we honor you by serving you the quality food that you want.”

 

Thanks, Red Onion Cafe, for making me feel appreciated as a citizen.

 

I appreciate you right back.

 

The casual, urban atmosphere at Red Onion makes it adaptable for any kind of dining experience, from a date night to a business lunch, a girlfriend getaway to a family meal (regarding that – a quick thank you to all of the Red Onion servers who patiently waited on my fidgety, sometimes boisterous, toddlers over the years).

 

Recently, I left my family at home and joined my friends for a rare girlfriend getaway dinner at Red Onion. Without the distractions of familial responsibilities, I was able to really see the restaurant for the gem that it is.

 

red onion front

 

First of all, Red Onion is located in a quaint historic brick building in the heart of downtown Joplin at 4th and Virginia Streets, just a block off of the iconic Route 66. Inside, the restaurant is open and airy, and offers a laid-back, neighborly feeling. If you’re a local, you will no doubt run into at least one person that you know here.

 

Once my friends and I were seated, we ordered our drinks and an appetizer. In addition to soft drinks, Red Onion serves fantastic raspberry tea and peach tea, as well as a selection of beer and wine.

 

For our appetizer, we ordered the Bruschetta Misto. Red Onion’s version includes grilled foccacia served with fresh, chopped tomatoes with garlic and basil, herbed cream cheese, and a marinated olive salad.

 

red onion misto

Bruschetta Misto

 

One of the most popular appetizers here is the Smoked Chicken Dip, a creamy, smoky, spicy creation that’s served with tortilla chips. This dip is known all around town. I’ve even been with my friend when she picked up an order of this dip, transferred it to a crystal serving platter, and brought it with her to serve at a holiday party. This dip is a perennial crowd-pleaser.

 

For our dinner entrees, Donna and I both ordered the Chicken Tuscany, which was made with grilled chicken, sun-dried tomatoes, artichokes, and wild mushrooms, and topped with a rich parmesan cream sauce. It was served with wild rice and butter fondue broccoli.

 

red onion tuscany

Chicken Tuscany

 

The tangy taste of the tomatoes and artichokes contrasted the smooth, rich flavor of the cream sauce, making my mouth very happy.

 

Erin ordered one of the daily specials, which was a tender steak (Red Onion’s steaks are cut daily in the kitchen) served with equally tender brussel sprouts, which Erin was excited to order since this often-underappreciated vegetable doesn’t regularly appear on menus.

 

red onion steak

The steak special of the day

 

Carrie, my vegan friend, ordered the Black Bean Veggie Burger (minus the cheese).

 

red onion bbb1

Black Bean Veggie Burger

 

Check out the pickle-tomato-and-onion smiley face on her bread. It’s a happy veggie burger!

 

Because I’ve eaten at Red Onion so many times over the years, I’ll tell you about a few more of my favorite items here. For lunch, I typically order the ROC Chicken Salad Sandwich, made with crunchy grapes, celery, and walnuts, and served on buttery grilled whole-grain bread.

 

I am in love with this rich, nutty bread. I’ve considered asking the management at Red Onion who their bread supplier is so that I can buy some to bring home. But then I realized that if I had the bread in my house, I would probably eat an entire loaf in one day so it’s probably best that I don’t know where I can buy it. Yes, these are my food-obsessed thoughts. You’ll understand once you’ve tasted this bread. Believe me.

 

Sometimes, I’ll order the salad version of this sandwich. It’s called the Chicken Walnut Salad and it also comes with a piece of that addictive toasted bread. I order the homemade sweet vinaigrette to top my salad.

 

One of the most popular dishes at Red Onion is David’s Fried Chicken Salad, which consists of mixed greens topped with coconut-breaded chicken, tomatoes, avocados, chopped egg, and cheese, and is served with a honey-mustard dressing.

 

Desserts are not to be forgotten at Red Onion. I’ve eaten enough desserts here through the years that I believe I have the right to claim myself as an expert.

 

You see, the Red Onion’s dessert selection has supported me through three pregnancies. During my second pregnancy, I ate a slice of the Caramel Fudge Pecan Cake about once a week. I noticed that it’s now listed as a best seller on Red Onion’s menu, and I think I maybe I had something to do with that.

 

red onion cake

Caramel Fudge Pecan Cake

 

Red Onion’s wide selection of high-quality menu items, coupled with its relaxed, welcoming dining room, makes it one the restaurants where I always know I’ll have a great experience.

 

Even with fidgety toddlers in tow.

 

Red Onion Cafe is located at 203 E. 4th St.
To read more about my adventures in the area, visit JoplinMOLife.com.

Ichiban Sushi

Surprise! You can find a high quality restaurant in a strip mall.

 

 

Surprise! You can find an excellent sushi restaurant in the landlocked Midwest.

 

 

Surprise! You can find a restaurant that has had loyal customers for over a decade.

 

 

Surprise! You can find all of this at Ichiban Sushi, a Japanese restaurant in (surprise!) Joplin, Missouri.

 

 

This was the first sushi restaurant that I ever ate at in Joplin and, believe me, I was hesitant to do so. The idea of eating ocean fish in a strip mall, which was located in a part of the country where beef and pork dominate restaurant menus, was not very appealing to me. Still, people claimed that it was worth taking a chance on this hole-in-the-wall place, so I did.

 

 

It was worth it.

 

 

That was over ten years ago. Now, Ichiban is a restaurant that my husband and I visit on our date night, which works out well since our kids don’t like sushi anyway.

 

 

It’s also a fun place to meet my fellow sushi-eating friends for a girls’ night out, which is something I did recently with my friends Carrie and Erin.

 

 

We arrived around 5:30 p.m. on a Friday and there were two other tables occupied. By the time we left, nearly all the tables were filled. That shows you the kind of power that word-of-mouth advertising, plus internet reviews, has for Ichiban. While other restaurants may focus their resources on heavy media advertising or on elaborate buildings and decor, Ichiban focuses its energy on serving great food.

 

 

Let’s talk about this great food. I started my meal with a house salad, which contained crispy iceberg lettuce, crunchy carrots and red cabbage, and juicy tomatoes, topped with a refreshing dressing made with ginger and sesame.

 

ichiban salad

 

For an appetizer, Erin and I split an order of gyoza, pan-fried Japanese dumplings filled with ground pork and spices and served with a dipping sauce.

 

ichiban gyoza

 

It’s a good thing that I ordered the gyoza to take the edge off my hunger while I reviewed the sushi menu or I would have ordered more than I could eat. The portions here are very generous.

 

 

For instance, take the Thai Veggie roll that Carrie, my vegan friend, ordered.

 

ichiban thai veggie roll

 

This monstrous roll was stuffed with asparagus, broccoli, and Thai peanut sauce, then topped with jalapenos, cilantro, sriracha sauce, and crushed peanuts. This was not a roll that could be eaten in one bite, and Carrie struggled to figure out the best way to do it.

 

ichiban num

 

I ordered the TNT roll, which is an unusual sushi roll because it is served warm. It’s made with a California roll baked with Dynamite sauce and topped with masago, which is an orange roe that adds a crunchy “pop” when you eat it, exploding in your mouth like TNT.

 

ichiban tnt

 

Erin ordered the Sushi and Roll, which included tuna (three types), salmon, octopus, shrimp, unagi, and a couple more types of fish, plus a spicy tuna roll.

 

ichiban sushi and roll

 

Her platter was colorfully arranged like a masterpiece of art.

 

We ordered more rolls to split, like these mini rolls filled with shiitake mushrooms and avocados.

 

ichiban mini veggie

 

And the vegetarian version of sashimi: meaty Portobello Mushrooms, and Fried Tofu (which had a slightly sweet, dessert-like taste).

 

ichiban veggie sashimi

 

For those who don’t like sushi, Ichiban also serves cooked Japanese food like teriyaki dishes.

 

 

Carrie, Erin, and I were too full to order dessert that night, but I’ve heard wonderful things about Ichiban’s Tiger Chocolate Cake which contains layers of milk and white chocolate and is served with a secret sauce.

 

 

Surprise! Chocolate cake at a Japanese restaurant.

 

 

I love surprises.

 

 

Ichiban Sushi is located at 2914 E. 32nd St.

 

 

To read more about my adventures in the area, visit JoplinMOLife.com.

Crackpot Pottery and Art Studio

Each time I go, I  feel it long before I see it.

 

Its vibration is so powerful, rising up from the stark industrial park and transforming everything it touches it into a colorful backdrop of imagination and whimsy.

 

crackpot facade

What I feel is the creative buzz emanating from the artistic worker bees at Crackpot Pottery & Art Studio. This community clay art center is a magnet for inspired craftspeople, and they use the studio here to breathe life into their ideas.

 

crackpot front studio

Founded by Suzi Huntington and Brent Skinner, Crackpot Pottery is “THE place to be if you’re interested in getting a little dirty all in the name of art and fun,” according to its Facebook page. I decided that I DID, indeed, want to do just that, so I visited the studio for a Saturday drop-in class.

 

crackpot back studio

What’s great about Saturday drop-in classes is that they don’t require much commitment from people like me, people who want to try something new and different but can’t quite dedicate ourselves to a regular 8-week pottery class (although Crackpot Pottery offers several of those for the people who can commit).

 

At $30 for the class (plus materials, which cost me $18), I found this to be an affordable way to stretch myself creatively. But the best part of these Saturday classes is that I received one-on-one instruction every time. That’s the benefit of having so many craftspeople buzzing about the center: there’s always someone available to share their talent with newbies like me.

 

crackpot kevin

I was paired with Kevin Audley, an instructor with the patience of Job. Ceramics artists like Kevin make working with clay look deceptively easy, so I naively approached my projects with a casual confidence that quickly turned to surprise, then frustration. How come my hands don’t effortlessly transform the clay into a piece of art?

 

I took a deep breath, then gave myself a pep talk. I know I’m not here to create a museum-quality piece. I’m here simply to create, to stretch myself beyond my comfort zone to see what can happen.

 

I felt much better after I stopped judging my progress and allowed myself to enjoy the process.

 

I decided to make a bowl and some trays, although I was tempted to make this adorable piggy bank.

 

crackpot pig

I’ll bring my daughter in to do that next time (after all, I still have a lot of clay left to use!).

 

Once I finished forming my pieces, the clay needed time to dry out, so I’d have to return on another Saturday to complete the next step: glazing.

 

crackpot samples

I love the alchemy of this part of the process: choosing a finished color from the tile samples, dipping the clay pieces into the buckets of glaze (that often looked completely different from the samples), then wondering how the intense heat of the kiln would transform the finish into the color that I envisioned.

 

crackpot kiln

 

crackpot inside kiln

There are several kilns located in back of the studio and they are fired weekly. Here’s how my oxblood-glazed stamped tray looked after it was fired.

 

crackpot tray

When I was at Crackpot Pottery, I marveled at the stunning work of the artists all around me, both in the studio and in the gift shop. While, yes, I’m proud of my little stamped tray, other artists at Crackpot Pottery have created breathtaking works like these:

 

crackpot octopus

 

crackpot cracked pot

I know I shouldn’t compare my work with theirs, but come on.

 

In particular, the work of Brent Skinner caught my eye. I couldn’t resist coming home with this, which is now my favorite mug.

 

crackpot skinner mugNotice the oxblood coaster. See, I did find a practical purpose for my artwork!

 

If you are looking to try something new, check out Crackpot Pottery’s Saturday drop-in class. Whether or not you’re crafty, Crackpot Pottery’s ever-patient staff will make you feel like a ceramics star.

 

 

Crackpot Pottery & Art Studio is located at 3820 E. 20th Street. Click here to visit its website.

 

To read more about my adventures in the area, visit JoplinMOLife.com.